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Let My Daughter Be One of the Boys

// Parenting

My daughter Ellis was playing with some friends. These friends are older and are boys and the play was getting rowdy -- just a little rowdy. Gentle, happy rowdy. No babies were being harmed in the making of this rowdy.

In the middle of the shouts, giggles and wiggly baby limbs, the mom of one of the boys in question came over and said, "Hey! We don't play wild with girls."

"They're fine," I said.

The mom ignored me and went over to her son. She grabbed him by the arm. "Did you hear me? I said we don't play wild with girls."

Her son, who up until that moment had been giggling on the floor with my daughter, began to cry.

"Seriously, they were fine," I said.

The other mom shook her head. "I just want them to be gentle."

"They were," I insisted. "They were playing so nice and your son was being kind and gentle." The mom apologized to her son, but the playtime was over. He left to play wild somewhere else and my daughter was alone.

This isn't the first time it's happened. It's actually the third. And yes, I am counting. This is the third time I've been in a situation when the parent of a boy has insisted that "we" don't play wild, wrestle or tickle girls and that pisses me off. Here we are, in the year 2012, and my daughter is only 14 months old and already she's being elbowed out of fun and frolic because she has a vagina. Way to move forward, society.

I don't know who this nebulous "we" is, but I was the second-oldest out of eight kids, five of whom were girls (six, if you count my brother Zach, who can out-shop all of us). And here are the things we girls did:

Wrestle with boys

Clothesline sisters who thwart your will

Gang up on stupid neighbor kids who taunt your brother

Get into scrappy fights when some kid in high school calls your sister a mean name

Scream and yell and bounce off walls

Pretend to be soldiers and play war

Turn sticks into guns

Jump off roofs

Climb out of windows during church and scale the side of the church

Climb trees and jump out of them into various bodies of water

Shoot a lot of inanimate objects

Here are the things we girls didn't do...

Murder

I talked about this with Dave, my husband, who is ever so wise, and he pointed out that if other parents want to dictate how their kids interact with our daughter, that's really not up to us. He is right, of course; I can't stop people from telling their children that girls don't run, yell, punch or get rowdy. But I wish I could.

My heart aches when I think about my daughter being left alone on the floor while the boys go play. Because it's not just playtime. It's all the time. When I was in college, competing at a debate tournament, a judge told me to wear more lipstick. "You'll look better," she wrote on her score card. I did, and the next time I had that judge I won the round. In 2009, a blogger by the name of James Chartrand revealed he was a woman, because writing under a man's name got her more work. Don't like anecdotes? How about sheer numbers? According to a VIDA count, women were published in the New Yorker 163 times in 2011, compared to 449 men. Women are still earning less than men. And politicians are still debating how to include women in the workforce. A plan that apparently includes binders. Welcome to the world, baby girl.

When I see this happening, everything in me martials to attention. I want to guard those little hearts and little souls and tell them, no, what you are being told is a lie. You don't draw definitions around gender, you draw definitions around people. But they're all so little and it's too big, even for me.

So, when I see Ellis alone on the floor, I go over to her. I swing her in the air and then I tickle her until she laughs her crazy laugh. "I'm gonna get you!" I yell and she squeals and crawls away, stopping only to wait for me to grab her and tickle her some more. We're wild and we're rowdy and we play until the boys come over and want to join us. And we let them.

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